Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jesus' Real Presence

One Sunday morning, at the end of Mass, as the congregation was filing out of church, they noticed a woman jumping up and down on the front lawn and shouting, “I hate God! I hate God!” Several men rushed over to see if they could calm her down. Looking down, they noticed something shocking. She had been jumping on the host she received at Mass. It turned out that the woman was mentally ill and, after going to communion, she spat the host on the ground. While one of the men ran in to get the priest, the others began gathering as much of the host as they could find and eating it. By the time the priest had arrived, all of the host had been consumed by the men who went above the call of duty to rescue it, even to the point of eating dirt and grass.

A Eucharistic minister was serving at Mass one Sunday morning when a young child came up to her. He received communion very reverently, blessing himself after he had stepped to the side. However, he began to turn pale and started coughing violently. All of a sudden, he vomited in the aisle. While his mother was attending to him, the Eucharistic minister noticed the host lying in the pool of vomit. Without hesitation, she rushed over and put the host in her mouth rather than allow it to lay on the floor. She is another example of someone going beyond the call of duty out of love and reverence for our Lord present in the Eucharist.

Finally, a young woman from Korea was visiting a basilica in Rome. The magnificent architecture and beautiful paintings were very moving to her. In her heart, she felt that this was no ordinary place. Though she had not been raised with any religion, she felt as though she wanted to pray and sat in a pew behind several others who were attending Mass. As they got up to receive communion, she was moved by how reverently and piously each person received our Lord in the Eucharist. Again, she could tell that this was no ordinary ceremony or ritual. In fact, God moved in her heart so much in that moment that she decided to look into the Catholic faith and was baptized at the Easter Vigil two years later.

These stories all point to the power of faith in Jesus’ real presence in the Holy Eucharist. When Jesus says, “ flesh is true food and my blood is true drink,” we take Him literally. When we receive Holy Communion we are truly receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is no mere symbol. It is the real thing. If it were merely a symbol, would those men have worked so desperately to get every piece of the host out of the ground to consume it? Would that woman pick a host out of a young boy’s vomit if it were only a representation of Jesus’ body? Would the young Korean woman be so moved if all the people were receiving was a dry piece of bread? Of course not. The Eucharist is truly Jesus, “the bread come down from heaven”, fulfilling His promise to be with us all days.

These stories also point to the profound love that believers have for our Lord in the Eucharist. It is a love that is so deep that they were willing to put their comfort and even their health at risk. Such a love cannot be taught. Rather, it comes from hours of prayer and meditation on the gift of the Eucharist. It comes from sitting in front of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, praising Him and contemplating His love. It comes from receiving communion as frequently as possible with a humble, contrite heart. Finally, it comes from telling others about the awesome gift we as Catholics are privileged to celebrate and receive.

In today’s world, it is common to have doubts about religious truths, especially one as profound as Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist. Sadly, Catholics are not immune to having such doubts. However, I beg all of you to not allow doubt to rob you of the wonderful gift of communion with Jesus that is offered to you at every Mass. If you have trouble believing, ask Jesus for the gift of faith. If you have trouble making sense of it all, ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of understanding. Do whatever it takes - speak to a priest, read a book - but especially pray. Whatever you do, do not deprive yourself of this incredible gift that Jesus died in order to bring to us.

Those of us who do believe and appreciate the wonderful gift of the Eucharist should support with prayer those who are searching. But we also can ask ourselves what type of an example we are to others. When we receive, do we do so with profound love and reverence? If that young Korean woman saw us receiving communion, would she know by our prayerfulness and awe that it is no mere piece of bread that we are receiving? Would anyone who saw us also want to imitate our love for Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist? These are questions which should always be on our mind during Mass as we prepare for communion. They are the questions Jesus will ask us when we stand face to face before Him at the hour of our death. Did we really love and appreciate the great gift He left us in His Body and Blood?

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